“The Test” provides insight and provokes further questions

Since Tuesday, I’ve been reading a new book called The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be, by Anya Kamenetz.  I ordered it after noticing in the newspaper that she would be speaking at a nearby bookstore called Politics and Prose – an event I attended Thursday night. Kamenetz spoke briefly about the book and how it came to be, then opened the floor to questions. I would have enjoyed hearing more about her experiences researching and writing the book – a “behind the scenes” look at her writing process – or  alternately, where she envisions or hopes the discussion will go from here. Still, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet her in person, ask a question, and have my book signed. (Meeting some of her colleagues from NPR, where she is the Lead Education Blogger, was an added bonus for this public-radio-loving nerd.)

The Test cover pic

I’m halfway through The Test, but I’ve already learned fascinating and important information regarding the politics behind the test and the tidal wave of money flowing into testing and test preparation. I asked Ms. Kamenetz at the book talk whether she had discovered in her research to what degree actual teachers were involved in creating the tests or their questions. She answered that the tests were mainly created by psychometric specialists – that is, people who specialize in test creation. Ok, but I’m still left wondering – what is the background of the test-creators? Do they have degrees or experience in K-12 education? Is their work assessed, tracked, and used for their evaluations as test-question creators? Do the same people write questions every year or do the companies (mainly just Pearson) hire new employees? Where is the transparency on the creation of these tests?

I spent 7 years teaching in Florida, so I’ve administered dozens of standardized tests, dozens of times: computer-based reading tests (several throughout the year), FCAT, FCAT Writes, SAT, and AP practice tests, to name a few. When you’re in the thick of it, you are annoyed at some tests and accept others. You don’t have time to research the validity of the tests, to examine their origins, their makers, or their backers. You’re cutting down each tree that’s planted in front of you, without the time to climb to a vantage point and view the forest.

I’ve been a supporter of using test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. I still am. I’ve also been a critic of the kinds of testing currently in use and the degree to which these scores are used in a teacher’s evaluation. I still am – now even more so.

In The Test, Ms. Kamenetz has given readers a lot of information, some possible answers, and perhaps most importantly, a great deal of questions left to explore. I’ll leave the review writing up to the professionals (The Boston Globe, Kirkus Review), and simply say I highly recommend this book to teachers, parents, students, school board members, and politicians.

I look forward to doing more reading, research, and writing on this topic and sharing my thoughts and findings with you.

Me at The Test talk